Washington Rep, Trawlers Scuttle Rumors of Gulf Legislation

Alaska Journal of Commerce By DJ Summers – April 14, 2016   

A Washington congresswoman’s office and members of the North Pacific trawl industry deny rumors that they are collaborating on federal fishing legislation that would circumvent the North Pacific Fishery Management Council process.

F/T Seafreeze Alaska Credit: alaskaseafood cooperative.org

F/T Seafreeze Alaska
Credit: alaskaseafood cooperative.org

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council regulates federal fisheries from three to 200 miles off the Alaska coast.

Currently, the council is considering a regulatory package of several options to implement a quota share system for Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries, one of the last remaining North Pacific fisheries without such a system. Word surfaced that a Washington legislator had crafted language at the behest of the trawl industry to implement a preferred industry alternative at the congressional level.

The congressperson named in fisheries circles, Rep. Jaime Hererra Beutler, R-Wash., sits on the House Appropriations Committee. Fisheries legislation dictating North Pacific council actions regarding Bering Sea crab and Gulf of Alaska rockfish catch share programs have previously been passed through appropriations bills amended by the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

Hererra Beutler’s office said it has no such legislation, and that anything resembling a federal order would have to come from Alaska.

“Rep. Herrera Beutler’s office hasn’t drafted any legislation relating to this issue and Jaime believes that any potential legislative solution would need to come from and be led by the Alaskan delegation,” read a statement from Amy Pennington, Hererra Beutler’s communications director.

Though the office has no legislation, Pennington did acknowledge that Hererra Beutler’s office — along with other congressional offices — does receive concerned pleas from trawl industry members based in the Pacific Northwest. The North Pacific trawl industry is largely ported in Seattle, though many independent trawlers operate in the Gulf of Alaska out of Kodiak.

“We continue to hear from a variety of stakeholders in the fishery, from harvesters to processors in Northwestern states, who are frustrated with the long council process and we have encouraged them to continue work towards a solution with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council,” Pennington wrote. “Members of Congress from Washington and several other impacted states have been hearing complaints about this issue for some time, and Jaime continues to monitor the situation closely.”

Trawl industry members echo Pennington. They said they have ongoing relationships with several members and their staff, and while they have expressed concern over the Gulf of Alaska issue they have made no request to draft federal legislation.

“I’ve talked to anybody who would listen,” said Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank. “I talked to (Sen. Maria) Cantwell’s staffer, Jordan Evich (of Hererra Beutler’s office), and the Alaska congressional delegation as well. But it was basically expressing concern, not having any particular ask.”

Brent Paine, executive director of United Catch Boats, also said he isn’t aware of any drafted legislation. Paine said he has an ongoing relationship with Hererra Beutler’s office regarding West Coast fisheries, but hasn’t discussed this particular North Pacific issue.

Both Paine and Bonney said such efforts wouldn’t be unusual given the council’s pace; the groundfish fleet in the Gulf of Alaska began discussions of a catch share program as early as 2001.

Many North Pacific fisheries regulatory changes have depended on congressional action, including crab rationalization, the American Fisheries Act that ended Japanese ownership of vessels harvesting pollock in U.S. waters, and the Gulf of Alaska rockfish pilot program.

Trawl vessels mainly prosecute the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery, which includes the midwater species pollock, and non-pelagic, or bottom trawl, species such as Pacific cod and arrowtooth flounder.

The trawl industry vehemently opposes one particular regulatory option — allocating quota shares for bycatch species but not for the target species — while assorted Gulf of Alaska fishermen and residents support its consideration, if not its passage.

The rumors of congressional language culminated in a petition circulated at the annual ComFish gathering in Kodiak.

A letter circulated by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and signed by 250 Gulf of Alaska fishermen and residents was sent to each of Alaska’s three congressional delegation members in early April. The letter suggested that congressional actions could potentially be underway, and urged representatives to not support any such actions.

“Specifically, we request our Alaska delegation to support development of a Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management Program (aka catch share) in the Council process so all stakeholders may contribute to a transparent process,” the letter asks. “Please do not support any attempt to circumvent the council process through legislation in Washington, D.C., as that would effectively preclude Alaskan coastal communities and stakeholders from having a direct voice in the process.”